On Notoriety, Fame and Making a Difference

Notoriety

*Picture from likesuccess.com

 

Another year, another FDIC in the books. I didn’t attend this year. Maybe I will again, maybe not. The reasons are perhaps best saved for another post when I feel like committing professional suicide. But, in watching this years FDIC through the lens of social media I think I made the right decision to stay home this year. I may have gotten in trouble.

You see, there is great training to be had once a year in Indy. There is knowledge to be had and insights to be gained. There are also colossal wastes of time. And it is difficult to know the difference from reading a course title and description. Heck, sometimes even knowing the instructor personally backfires as a litmus test for whether or not to invest one’s time in a classroom or HOT class. I guess it is what it is. Not everyone is a great instructor ( even at the Fire Department Instructor’s Conference [that’s what it means in case some of you didn’t know]) and not every class is ground shaking and world changing. The truth of the matter is it’s a huge business. Either for an existing business or for one that hopes to get going. And for many instructors that teach at FDIC it is the latter that draws them.

I admit that at one time it was a goal of mine to teach at the Super Bowl of fire service training, as many have described it. I wanted to be known, respected, rub elbows with the biggest of the big names. All of that has since changed for me, personally. I no longer desire any of that. There are many that do and I guess that’s ok, depending on your motivation. Now, I don’t begrudge anyone making a buck or two. I actually think it’s a God-given, American right to do so. And if a gig at FDIC makes your side-business take off, more power to you. Or if your side-business leads you to a gig at FDIC, more power to you. But I guess I’d ask what is that side-gig? Is it providing good, solid, foundational  training? Is it trying to start a movement that corrects an issue in the industry? Is it providing a support service for those of us in the industry? Or is it providing a side-show? Douchebaggery, I believe one post I saw described it as. Is it dressing up in silly costumes and parading around drumming up business for yourself? Is it stumping for any manufacturer of any thing (often dressed up in that silly costume)? Is it giving out as many of your t-shirts/ challenge coins/ stickers/ whatevers as possible so your “brand” gets out there more? Seemed like it by much of what I saw.

If you’re providing something back to the fire service I guess handing out all that stuff is ok. Obviously manufacturers do it in order to convince you they are the best provider of your next fire apparatus/ SCBA/ bunker gear/ whatever. And if you provide training through classes/ books/ videos/ whatever I get it too. But it’s these individuals and organizations that provide nothing back but a website or brand that represents what? Themselves? That they, the individual, is the greatest dragon slayer/ blog writer/ postulator/ whatever. I’ll admit, when I was putting a lot of effort into this blog and was about to attend FDIC I thought about making a t-shirt to advertise the blog. Figured I’d wear it around and maybe get recognized, maybe network a bit, maybe draw new readers to the site. But I couldn’t do it. It felt…. I dunno…. greasy or something to me. Because, you see, I don’t really provide anything back to the fire service. I write my opinions, provide some thoughts, maybe even a little bit of actual training that might help someone somewhere along the line. But that’s really it. This blog is an outlet for me, not a business.

Notoriety, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is; the condition of being famous or well-known especially for something bad : the state of being notorious. Many people use this word incorrectly and have a misunderstanding of its meaning. They confuse notoriety with fame, which is defined as  the condition of being known or recognized by many people. See that subtle difference there? Notoriety gets you fame for doing something dumb, usually. Fame can also get you notoriety, also after doing something dumb. So, are you walking around FDIC feeling all smug because of your notoriety? Whoops. Or are you pretty secure in your fame, until it turns into notoriety? Also, whoops.

Here’s what I’ve decided for me personally. I can have the type of impact I want to have for my fire service career by training the probies that come into my department, by being a good instructor in our Training Division, by continually improving myself and learning and by passing on my knowledge and experiences. I don’t need FDIC to do that. I can do that right here at home in my department and the departments in the general area that train with us. I may write something here or share something on the Facebook page that helps someone. That’s my reward. That’s what I’m looking to do. I’m looking to make a difference, not sell a product or an image.

If one of your goals is to teach at FDIC or any other trade conference or show ask yourself why you are aspiring to that. Fame? Notoriety? To make a difference? Only you know for sure.

Be safe.

Chris

Unintended Consequences

Unintended Consequences

*Image from genewhitehead.com

 

Lately I have seen several notifications of testing and recruitment initiatives for fire departments across the nation that are specifically aimed at veterans of our armed services. While I think this is a great thing on the surface I can’t help but wonder if there won’t be unintended consequences that come along with hiring our vets. Now, before you leave me a nasty comment and unsubscribe from the blog let me explain.

First and foremost you won’t find a bigger supporter of our military men and women than me. My family has a strong history of service in many branches of the U.S. military and I, myself was headed to the Navy before life circumstances changed things. Two buddies and I even showed up at the local Marine Corps recruiting office the morning after Gulf War Part I began (eternal thanks to the Gunnery Sergeant who asked if we really wanted to be Marines or if we were simply signing up because of what had begun the night before and then going on to explain that it would be over before we were out of Boot Camp). I strongly believe every American owes a debt of gratitude to our service members, past and present. It is in that same vein that I like to see these recruitment initiatives targeting retired service members. Anything that can help our men and women who are transitioning back to civilian life find a job, a purpose and income to support themselves and their families is worth backing in my book. However, when we look at military veterans and the fire service there is something that immediately jumps out to me. A parallel that perhaps others aren’t seeing in their exuberance to help out our retired soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coasties. That parallel would be suicide.

Just this past week alone (August 24, 2015 – August 30, 2015) 7 firefighters and paramedics committed suicide according to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance FaceBook page. While I do not have weekly, monthly or yearly breakdowns for military suicides, according to the Military Suicide Report 100,000 military veterans have committed suicide since September 11, 2001. Let that number sink in. 100,000! And that does not include the active duty military members that choose to end their own lives. According to a Department of Defense report cited in the Military Times on suicide rates, the 2013 numbers (most recent cited) were 259 total active duty suicides across all service branches with another 220 in the Reserves and Guard. 479 service members in 2013 alone.

Behavioral health has been a hot topic in the fire service for some time now. Depression, PTSD, anxiety and alcohol and drug (prescription or illegal) dependency are all common problems facing todays fire and EMS professionals. Some of the factors that cause these issues to take hold cannot be avoided. They are hazards of our chosen profession. Just as we cannot pick and choose which calls we will answer because of what we may have to see and deal with, neither can the soldier pick and choose the patrol or mission to go out on. But the commonality between the two is that the experiences, sights, sounds, smells and memories that both firefighter and soldier are exposed to can lead to permanent imprints on each service members life. The risk factors and the resulting effects and coping methods are the same for both public safety employees and service members. The arenas are just different. So why then would we want to recruit our veterans for a job that is going to place the same stresses and risk for mental and emotional damage upon them? For some very good reasons, it turns out.

The fire service is a paramilitary organization with rank structure, designated jobs, a common mission, unit designations and camaraderie. Things that every veteran would recognize and be comfortable in the midst of. The fire service is a stressful environment in which members are expected to perform their jobs well and to complete whatever mission is before them. Again, something any veteran can relate to. Many skills developed in the military are desirable in the fire service as well. From leadership skills, to mechanical skills, to computers and radios, to tactics and strategy a veteran has a unique advantage over many civilian recruits. Besides being a way that the American home front can repay its debt to our soldiers it just makes sense to recruit them. There is a risk, however. In recruiting veterans we have to be aware of the parallels I noted above. Does this mean we should not recruit them? Absolutely not! I completely believe we should. But in so doing I think that fire departments across the nation must be prepared to take a step that until now has never been taken in the hiring process specifically and continue this throughout every members career.

I was once told by a Chief officer that no one in the history of that particular department had ever passed the mandatory psych exam prior to being hired. He went on to say that everyone was “off” in some way and that the psych merely looked for major warning flags that indicated propensity to violence, addiction, theft and other major issues. If some of these red flag issues were identified in an applicants testing they were failed. It makes sense to me, we all have to be a little “off” to voluntarily sign up for some of the things we know we will be getting into as fire and EMS professionals. But now that we are actively recruiting a portion of the population that has already been identified as having some “red flag issues” is merely “bouncing” them from a failed psych test the correct and moral thing to do? I would argue no and this is where I think the American fire service can perhaps have a positive impact on veterans identified as less than optimum employees but human beings nonetheless.

I would propose that fire departments begin to set in place a safety net of sorts for those veterans that do not pass psychiatric exams prior to hiring. Instead of receiving a form letter in the mail or a cold, disembodied voice on the other end of a phone telling them they failed and thus will not be hired, how about a meeting with a mental health professional to discuss the findings of the exam and what steps could be taken, if not already in place, to help this individual out? How about already having resources in place for the vet to take advantage of? Perhaps some vets will already have begun counseling or other forms of treatment on their own. Great! But as we have all seen with the recent VA scandals many simply don’t have access to these needed resources. They are a number in a long line of numbers waiting on bureaucratic red tape and policy. Set up partnerships between these resources and your department to work with both prospective candidates and your existing employees. Can we or should we offer this type of help to every individual who fails a psych? Perhaps the right answer is yes, but how about we start with those who have already proven all they need to prove to any of us?

Hopefully by now you understand that it is not that I don’t wish to see veterans serving along side of us but that I want to ensure that those that do and even those that tried to, have some sort of access to mental health resources. This is a deep subject, with many off-shoot conversations that can be had. It delves into mental health after employees are hired and have been serving. It branches into the understanding and lack thereof of many of todays administrators over the issue of mental health. This one article was not meant to address every issue. But as I saw these recruitment initiatives popping up I couldn’t help but see the potential risk this otherwise awesome opportunity posed to our nation’s warriors. I thought maybe if I was thinking it someone else was too and maybe if I wrote about it someone might see it and decide they could do something to make things better. I know there are a few chief officers who follow me, a couple legal counsels and many firefighters and EMS pros that can have influence in their organization. Maybe no one has thought of this. Maybe you guys can push it forward and have a positive impact.

Until next time,

Stay safe,

Chris

Fire Service Lemmings

lemming

 

Know what pisses me off? Well, yeah, that. That too. Yep, that. Ok, smart alecks how about I just tell you what pisses me off this particular time? Firefighters who don’t read. Which wouldn’t be you guys reading this because, well, you’re reading this and I don’t have a lot of pictures on my stuff.

In particular I hate firefighters who look at a picture and don’t take the time to read an associated article, post or what have you, and then comment on said picture. I had been thinking about this post for other reasons but then went to Facebook to do some mindless tooling around. I came cross Bill Carey’s page on which he had shared a photo from the Fire Engineering Training Community and the article associated with it, see below.

bill carey fb 2

Here’s the really, really ironic part. The article that is associated with Bill’s FB post is written by Lt. Brian Bastinelli and is entitled 1/250th of a Second. It talks about exactly what I’m talking about, how a photo is 1/250th of a second in time and we don’t know for certain what occurred before or after that captured moment in time. Lt. Bastinelli’s article can be found here. I highly encourage you to read it, it’s very good. So back to Bill’s FB post. At the time of this post there were 45 comments on the photo Bill posted. Exactly 41 of them were commenting on the hydrant flushing operation, the lack of hydrant maintenance or the argument over whether or not this was a real job and why the Engineer doesn’t have gear on. The fact that Bill was commenting on flushing your mind and doing some research on something and posting a picture to illustrate that  was completely missed by 91-freaking-percent of the people that chose to comment. Bill’s a very smart guy but I doubt even he meant to illustrate his and Lt. Bastinelli’s point so succinctly. SMDH.

This fire service ADD doesn’t just include photos and the comments that are made after them. Oh no. Lest we be accused of singling out one particular type of media we also apply it to the written form of communication too. LODD reports, NIST and UL studies and other forms of the more classic form of written communication fall prey to this abomination as well. Most often this comes from firefighters who only read a headline, or a summation of an entire report and draw conclusions from that little bit of information. Take the transitional attack and flow path arguments that are so en vogue right now. The research that is cited in many of these arguments is often times so bastardized that I find myself constantly questioning whether or not I missed something when I read the different publications because what is being spewed as gospel wasn’t in the bible I read.

Take some time to make yourself a better, more informed firefighter and actually read the reports. Do some research into a picture you’re seeing and have an issue with. Maybe there is an explanation as to how or why something is being done in a particular fashion that you aren’t aware of from looking at 1/250th of a captured second. Quit sounding like an idiot and making us all look bad when you type something without understanding or comprehension.

Stay Safe

Chris

On Robin Williams and Canada

 

 

 

 

 

 

robin-williams

 

canadien

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the world reacts to the news that actor/comedian Robin Williams has passed in what is being reported as a possible suicide, the event is bringing renewed attention to the issue of depression. At the same time a recent article in the Global News, an on line Canadian news paper, highlights the recent spate of suicides among Canadian first responders. You could look at this post as having nothing much to do with you if you aren’t an extremely successful and well loved Hollywood celebrity or if you don’t happen to hail from the Maple Leaf. However, if you are here and reading this odds are you are a first responder, and it has everything to do with you.

Robin Williams had been very candid in the press with his on-going struggles with depression and drug and alcohol addiction. Williams claimed he had never been formally diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder but that he would get extremely down and sad for periods of time, which usually resulted in him turning to drugs or alcohol as self-treatment. While the symptoms of depression and/or bi-polar disorder could have actually contributed to some of his success with his high-energy brand of comedy (the manic up-side), the downside of the disease(s) were clearly worse.

So what does this have to do with Canadian first responders? It just so happens that Global News published a report on July 17, 2014 discussing 13 suicides among police officers, firefighters, EMT/Paramedics, dispatchers and jail staff in 10 weeks. Many, if not all, of these suicides are being attributed to the effect of PTSD, associated depression and other mental illness in these public servants.  This is not just a Canadian issue, as we all should know. PTSD and depression know no international boundaries and the common job we all share make us very susceptible to the diseases.

Many of you know that I struggle with depression. If you did not you can read about my history and diagnoses in a post I wrote about it here. I am not ashamed to say this. More of us need to be unashamed about the fact that we need help with some of the things we witness due to this job. The stigma of mental illness needs to be crushed if any real progress will be made toward lowering the number of public servant suicides. Our brothers and sisters need to feel safe in coming forward with their struggles before help is sought. Looking weak, fearing further isolation from their co-workers, worrying about job security or re-assignment, and a feeling of needing to deal with it on their own because they deal with everyone else’s problems are just some of the reasons “we” don’t seek help and take advantage of the resources that are many times already available to us.

Discussing mental illness isn’t as sexy as talking about flow path. It isn’t as glamorous as rallying support for the brothers and sisters succumbing to the cancers killing them from working at Ground Zero. But it is killing us the same as any other danger we face. It is something we can do something about if we all just have the courage to bring it out of the darkness and into the light.

Making Things Safer at the Scene of a Traffic Incident

TIM Logo.2

At the end of June I was fortunate enough to attend the train-the-trainer program at the National Emergency Training Center at the National Fire Academy for the National Traffic Incident Management program. That’s a lot of nationals in one sentence! And that’s the idea of this program. One, unified approach to how we as emergency responders deal with traffic incidents no matter if you’re in Washington state, Oklahoma or Maine. The goal is to enhance responder safety by teaching the participant the major factors and causal affects of injury and fatality secondary accidents while operating at the scene of an incident on the roadway. This class is targeted at police officers, firefighters, EMS, dispatchers and towing professionals all across the country in order to give everyone the tools they need to operate in a more safe manner on any type of roadway, not just Interstates or super-highways.

Three injury crashes occur every minute in the United States, putting police, fire, highway workers, tow truck drivers, and other incident responders potentially in harm’s way every day. Congestion from these incidents can generate secondary crashes, increasing traveler delay and frustration. The longer responders remain at the scene, the greater the risk they, and the traveling public, face. Every minute clearing an initial accident increases the chance of a secondary crash by 2.8 percent.

The National Traffic Incident Management (TIM) Responder Training program is building teams of well-trained responders who can work together in a coordinated manner, from the moment the first emergency call is made. They learn the correct deployment of response vehicles and equipment, how to create a safe work area using traffic control devices, and techniques to speed up accident clearance.

The program is sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration, which designed the course as part of the second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2) to improve highway safety and reduce congestion caused by crashes.

The curriculum is based on extensive and detailed research conducted with TIM responders across the country and is based on a train-the-trainer approach. The FHWA-led 10-hour course builds a team of instructors within each state, region, or agency. They, in turn, train their colleagues using this innovative curriculum. Shorter, four-hour courses and one-hour training modules (which became available online in late spring 2014) are used to cascade the training and make it available to all responders. Training modules are flexible and can be modified to fit state and local regulations or practices.

The TIM Training program has been endorsed by key agencies involved in incident response, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, State and Providential Divisions (IACP); International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC); American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO); National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC); and the Towing and Recovery Association of America (TRAA).
More than 40,000 responders have been trained across the country using this curriculum. The results have been very positive. Several states are now requiring their state police or highway patrol officers to take the training. To generate the strongest teams, representatives from all responder groups train together, including police, fire, sheriffs, emergency medical services, dispatchers, tow professionals, departments of transportation, and public works.

This class was some of the best training I have had in a while. The cause is also very personal to me. My response district includes 2 Interstate highways, 4 State highways and several large regional roadways. My department as well as the local police and sheriff’s department have had several close-calls, including me personally, and a few accidents as the result of secondary crashes while operating on the scene of a primary incident. Thankfully no serious injuries or deaths have resulted. If it was one thing I learned from this class, however, that could just be a matter of time unless we start employing some different tactics regarding to operating in the roadway.

If anyone is interested in hosting training for your department, group of departments or group of mutual-responders you can contact me through the website and I’d be more than happy to come and put a class on for you or TIMTraining@dot.gov.

Like Tiger Schmittendorf says, “The most dangerous job we do. The job we do most often.”

Until next time be safe out there,

Chris

Extraordinary

Extraordinary.

Ladies and Gents, Brothers and Sisters, do yourself a favor and go read this very emotional and well written piece by an active ED RN. Although she is writing from that perspective and commenting on her co-workers this could easily be applied to so many of our co-workers in the Fire/EMS Service. Simply replace your mental image of a hospital Emergency Department with the scenes you have responded to and the co-workers you serve with while reading.

OH MY ACHING HEAD

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Concussion. It’s been a huge concern and media buzzword over the last couple years. Much of the discussion and attention has been brought about by several high-profile athletes having taken their own lives after dealing with what they believed were the side-effects of numerous concussions they had suffered during their playing careers, most notably Junior Seau and Dave Duerson. Both former NFL stars shot themselves in the chest so that their brains could be studied after their deaths in the hope of preventing or treating others with chronic traumatic enchephalapothy (CTE). CTE is being categorized as a degenerative disease caused by repeated brain trauma over a period of time, usually years, that results in a list of symptoms that leads many of its victims to live lives that are almost unrecognizable as compared to their lives before CTE. The most common cause of CTE is repeated concussion.

I think I was about 10 years old or so. Fifth or sixth grade, maybe. We were playing floor hockey in P.E. class in the poured-concrete with (probably asbestos) tile over the top gym. I remember having the puck and moving up the left side of the court, heading towards the goal. I think I was tripped by some other sticks, or maybe a leg, and falling head-first to the floor, bouncing my forehead off the concrete and tile. I also remember a class-mate named Randy was running behind me, trying to catch me on the play. Randy was the biggest kid in the school, no matter what grade. Over six-feet tall and over one-hundred pounds already, he wasn’t able to hold-up after I fell. He tripped and fell on top of me, bouncing my head off the floor split-seconds after it had already struck it the first time. I don’t remember getting from the floor of the gym to the principle’s office. I barely remember being told my step-dad was on his way to pick me up and take me home. The ride home, about a mile and a half, was fuzzy at best. Getting home I remember my step-dad had to half-carry me inside to our small den, where he laid me down on the loveseat, covered me with a blanket and told me to take it easy. I have sporadic, disconjugated memories of the next two days. I slept the whole time, waking briefly to hear bits of conversation coming from the other room or to see my mom or step-dad leaning over me saying something. That I remember I didn’t eat or get up to go to the bathroom, although I’m guessing I must have at least done the latter at some point. My parents never took me to the doctor. It was the mid-eighties and not much was known about concussion or traumatic brain injury. Certainly not by parents of the time, unlike today. Concussion was just another way of saying, “he got his bell rung”, and didn’t warrant anything more than a little time to recover, a slap on the butt and a “get back in there” from your coach. Today, of course, we know much more about the causes, symptoms and cumulative effects of concussion. But back then it just wasn’t a big deal. So I slept for two days and when I was either forced or felt well enough to get up (I don’t remember what the circumstances were), I resumed life like nothing had happened. Back to school. Back to basketball and baseball. Back to playing with friends. That was the first of what I’m guessing to be six or more concussions I’ve suffered over the years.

According to the Mayo Clinic concussion is, “a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions. Effects are usually temporary, but can include problems with headache, concentration, memory, judgment, balance and coordination.” Concussion occurs when the head is struck violently or shaken very hard and the brain slams into the skull, causing injury. Contrary to popular belief losing consciousness is not necessary to suffer a concussion. The brain can sustain a severe enough injury to be concussed without the patient actually losing consciousness. This is the least severe of the three grades of concussion. While there is no universal consensus on the grading of concussions there are two scales that are most commonly used in the United States; the Cantu scale and the Standardized Assessment of Concussion.

The Cantu Scale was developed by Dr. Robert Cantu in 1986 and was adopted by the American College of Sports Medicine. In 1991 the Colorado Medical Society developed its own guidelines after several deaths of High School football players after suffering brain injuries. These guidelines were more restrictive than Dr. Cantu’s and were then adopted by the NCAA for evaluating college athletes. Whether it be the Cantu scale or the CMS scale they share four general evaluations. 1) presence or absence of loss of consciousness, 2) duration of loss of consciousness, 3) duration of post traumatic memory loss, and 4) persistence of symptoms including headache, dizziness and lack of concentration. When the results of these evaluations are determined the concussion can then be graded.

Grade I:  concussions are not associated with loss of consciousness, and post-traumatic amnesia is either absent or      less than 30 minutes in duration. Athletes may return to play if no symptoms are present for one week.

Grade II:  concussions in which the patient loses consciousness for less than five minutes or exhibits posttraumatic amnesia between 30 minutes and 24 hours in duration. They also may return to play after one week of being asymptomatic.

Grade III:  concussions involve post-traumatic amnesia for more than 24 hours or unconsciousness for more than five minutes. Players who sustain this grade of brain injury should be sidelined for at least one month, after which they can return to play if they are asymptomatic for one week.

Post-concussive Syndrome can occur in the days, weeks, months and even years after a patient suffers a concussion. PCS is the presence and on-going problematic occurrences of the signs and symptoms of concussion after what should have been the “normal” healing time. Symptoms include memory and concentration problems, mood swings, personality changes, headache, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia and excessive drowsiness. While no one knows for certain it is thought that the symptoms and problems associated with PCS contributed to the suicides of both Seau and Duerson. Dealing with these symptoms on a day-to-day basis became too much for them to bare and the only way they saw to be at peace was taking their own lives. But they were football players with lengthy careers in one of the most violent sports played. What could they possibly have in common with us?

I think we would all agree that the profession of firefighting and the delivery of EMS care has countless opportunities for us to suffer head injuries. From collapses at structure fires, to falls off the rig or a ladder, to encounters with violent patients there is ample opportunity for us to suffer a concussion. In the span of my career I can think of at least three times I personally believe I have suffered a concussion as a direct result of the job. I’m sure there are many of you who firefighter c-collarcould think of one or more times when you “had your bell rung” hard enough that you saw stars, became unsteady or even lost consciousness. These occurrences are severe enough to cause a concussion and warrant an evaluation. If you are suffering from the continued symptoms of what you believe to be a concussion suffered in the past you can still be evaluated presently despite the length of time since the injury. The exam will be subjective and based upon the history of the event and the symptoms you suffered or are continuing to suffer from. According to the United States Fire Administration report Fire-Related Firefighter Injuries Reported to NIFRS released in 2011, 15% of the 81,070 injuries suffered by firefighters between 2006 and 2008 (the time-period of the study) were head injuries. That’s 12,160.5 head injuries suffered. Divided by the three years of the study equals an average of 4,053.5 head injuries per year. That’s a lot in my book. Are all of them concussions or possible concussions? Probably not. But I’d be willing to bet that a large enough number of them warrant an evaluation for concussion and the possibility of on-going problems after.

As with Junior Seau and Dave Duerson repeated concussion, or a single severe enough event of concussion, can lead to a life time of disabilities and mental health issues. Depression is just one such mental health issue associated with concussion injuries and its associated syndromes. As we all know the issue of firefighter depression and firefighter suicide has been a significant topic of late and one which needs to be talked about openly and honestly. The days of “just suck it up and deal with it” are long over. The days of shrugging off the splitting headaches and continued dizziness because “you’re tougher than that” need to be left in the past too. We have enough on this job that can kill or lead to permanent disability, don’t let this be added to your list too.

Until next time,

Be safe.

Chris

New Partnerships and Free Training

A new and exciting opportunity has presented itself and I’ve jumped at the chance. I’ve recently been given the opportunity to work with Chris Huston of EngineCo.22, and John Shafer of Green Maltese in their joint venture Fire Training Toolbox. FTT began as their brain-child with the vision of a place where firefighters could go for free, top-notch training  that was easily accessible and available to all regardless of pay scale, department size or training budget. It is also not meant to be a handful of elitist instructors who lecture down to the minions of the fire service, impressing them with their knowledge and puffing out their chests to each other. At the risk of sounding a little Utopian, FTT is supposed to be a group of highly motivated and eager individuals who enjoy learning and sharing their knowledge with others in order to make the fire service better. It’s basically open to anyone who wants to contribute, both on the learning and teaching end. That’s how I got involved. I asked.

So I submitted my first training article to FTT a few days ago. Hopefully it won’t be the last. I decided to do an article on a subject that I really don’t remember ever seeing done before, not to toot my own horn or anything. I wrote about opening an overhead door for defensive hoseline operations. “Huh?”, you might be asking. Well, think about it for a moment. There are two main reasons we open overhead doors, but both have distinctly different objectives. The first reason is to force entry. Meaning, the garage door is in the way and we need to get into the structure behind it. Obviously we have to force the door in order to get into the building. The second reason to force the door is to get at the fire behind the door. In this case we are going to assume the fire has us beat and this is a defensive operation. We aren’t going in but we still need to open those big overhead doors to be able to hit the fire. Will the same method work for both objectives? Depends on which method you choose. Guess you’ll just have to read the article. The link here will take you to the articles menu on FTT. Look for it there and check out the other articles and training modules available.

I’ve Been BURNED.

* Image from DETROITFIREFILM.ORG, all rights reserved.

Last night I had the opportunity and privilege to see the movie that most of us in the fire service have been talking about for a while now; “BURN; One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit.” I realize I am behind many of you out there in having seen the film but this was the first offering in my area and myself and about half my shift, as well as a couple guys from the other two shifts we allowed to join us, went to take it in. And all I can say is, “Wow.” I’m glad I did.

I’m glad I didn’t just sit back and say, yeah I “know” what’s going on in Detroit. I “know” what the Brothers are up against up there. I “know” they fight a lot of fire and I “know” they are doing it in less than ideal conditions. Because if I were to have done that it would have been like saying I “know” what war is like because I heard my Grandfather talk about it a couple times. I never would have seen it with my own eyes, listened to it with my own ears and looked at some of these men in their eyes as they told their stories. Now, it’s true, this was done on a movie screen but it was that powerful nonetheless. Especially if you’re a firefighter and can relate to at least some of what is going on in that once, and perhaps again, proud city. You can’t help but be moved by the men who go to work every day knowing they are going to fight multiple fires with less than ideal apparatus and equipment, and in some cases backing, because it’s their job and they love it. Not only that but because they have a duty to the people that are still left in Detroit. And therein lies a forgotten story in the conflagration of Detroit; there are still people who call the city their home and who have nothing else in their lives but what is in that house, as run-down or decrepit as it may seem to you and me. It’s not all about Devil’s Night and vacant structure fires. The DFD is still in the business of saving lives and protecting property when it can and has the ability to do so.

Many of us have seen the illustration below that explains the different meanings associated with the symbol of our profession. Gallantry; Perseverance; Loyalty; Dexterity; Explicitness; Observation; Tact and Sympathy. At this point and time in our collective history I cannot think of another organization as whole that exemplifies these credos better than Detroit Fire Department simply by showing up to work every day in the conditions they must and continuing to do the job they have sworn to do. A very powerful scene in the movie for me personally, and I don’t want to give too much away for those that have not seen the film yet, happened at the funeral of a young fire victim. This case was well publicized around the nation. There were equipment failures. The first-due Truck Company’s aerial didn’t work. She was trapped in the upper stories. The first arriving crews tried to get to her via interior stairs and ground ladder but couldn’t. She succumbed. And there, at her wake and funeral, were the men and women of the Detroit Fire Department. Standing with their community saying, “This was a tragedy. This shouldn’t have happened. We are here with you and for you.”  My first thought, selfishly, was, “I don’t know if I could have done that. What if they would have turned on us? Hated us?” But in Detroit things are different. The community, I believe, for the most part understands it’s not the rank-and-file firefighters who are not performing their jobs. It is not the guys with gear held together by duct tape and the last strands of stitching. Due in large part to individual efforts of neighborhood fire companies and the local press the community has turned its eyes downtown to the elected officials and has begun to call them to task for the state not only of the fire department but of the city as a whole. Again, this rapport with the community is not due to a Public Education Unit which is funded with tens of thousands of dollars in the yearly budget, a dedicated staff and its own vehicle to drive around to block parties and senior citizen events all year. It’s not even due to a Fire Commissioner who sits and eats a hamburger with at a local church gathering while asking, “What do you-all really need from the Fire Department?” It’s from the men and women who actually respond to the calls also taking the time to educate the people about the situation.

And really educating people is what this film is all about. While this film has obviously become a hit with us, firefighters, it really is not meant for us. In the Q&A session after the screening last night Producer/Director Brenna Sanchez said (and I’m paraphrasing a little bit here because I didn’t have time to write the entire quote down); “This film was made so that the next time people go to vote for budget cuts for you’re department they’ll stop and remember Detroit, and think, “I don’t want my city to turn into that.” After all you guys are all 1 or 5 or 10 budget cuts away from being in the same situation just on a smaller scale.” And she’s right. East Fork Little River Fire Protection District (still doesn’t exist, I Google it every time I use it) might not fight 30 fires a day, but if they don’t have the equipment or manpower they need for the 1 fire in the year they do get, isn’t it just as bad? Especially if there is a life on the line? But this film can only educate the intended audience if it reaches them. And here is where the project is still running into trouble. “Whaddyamean?” I just heard you ask. The movie is being shown all around the country to rave reviews! That’s true, and the monetary goals for actually completing the movie-making portion of the production were met. But the project is still an independent release and has no studio or marketing back. Very few chain movie theaters have agreed to carry the film in their normal line-ups (although Brenna and Tom shared some exciting news for the Chicago area last night, but not knowing if I have the ok to release that info, too bad for you 🙂 So the long and the short of it is that the project still needs help to ensure that it will be released commercially nationwide and reach its intended target audience, civilians. If you can find it in yourself to help out please go to BURN’s official website and make a donation, buy some swag, host a screening or do whatever you can. It’s not just about Detroit, it could wind up being about any of us.

Left to Right: Producer/Director Brenna Sanchez, FEO Dave Farnell (ret.), Myself, FF Ted “Tito” Copley

Front: FF Brendan “Doogie” Milewski (ret.)

Until next time,

Be safe!

Chris

It’s All About Me

I think I’ve said this before so forgive me if I’m repeating myself. I don’t know why I read the comments written by other “firefighters” posted under some story or other regarding a fire or rescue situation. All it does, in general, is infuriate me. And so it has again. Buckle up lads and lasses.

Last Thursday evening there was a 2-Alarm apartment fire in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Five firefighters and one civilian were injured while four additional civilians were rescued. One of those rescues, in particular, has brought a lot of media attention and drawn the ire of many keyboard incident commanders. Captain Scott Kilpatrick of the PGFD entered a second-floor apartment above the the fire apartment, located a conscious victim who was unable for unspecified reasons to assist in her own movement, and then stayed with her for approximately 15 minutes after being unable to remove her on is own and radioing for help. Captain Kilpatrick shared his airpack with the victim, alternating breaths off his mask, while they awaited assistance from other firefighters. This resulted in both Captain Kilpatrick and the victim being transported to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation as well as thermal burns to the civilian. This is what the KIC’s or the keyboard firefighters are bashing Captain Kilpatrick for, and why I am supremely pissed.

I distinctly remember more than 18 years ago now, sitting in the training room of my first paid-on-call department, on the first day of the training academy, the training Captain giving his opening speech. In it he outlined what it meant to be a firefighter, what it meant to serve and that it was so much more than just a job. He also told us something that I already knew full-well and expected but something which I could tell some others in the room might not have thought much about before that moment. I’m paraphrasing a bit here so indulge me, but he said words similar to the following;

“Odds are ladies and gentlemen, that at some point in your careers, if you keep doing this long enough, you are going to get hurt. Hopefully it won’t be serious but it will probably happen. It’s just the nature of our job. We work in a dangerous environment that cannot be controlled all the time as much as we try. And of course, there’s always the chance that someone could make the ultimate sacrifice. Someone might die. Look around the room. There’s, what? Fifteen or so of you in here? By the time you get done with this academy, if you all make it, you will be a tight group. You’ll be close. Can you imagine if someone in here is just suddenly gone? You go to a fire together one night and only one of you goes home. It can happen. On average it does happen about 100 times a year. But we are here to save other peoples lives. To make a difference. Because if we don’t, no one else is going to.”

I thought those were powerful words back then and I still think they are powerful words today. But if we fast-forward those 18 some-odd-years now that training Captain would be delivering a different kind of speech. A speech that I think is at the center of a problem in today’s fire service and one that crops up in the comments made against firefighters like Captain Kilpatrick who go out and successfully save a life while making a conscious decision to risk his own. Here’s how today’s training Captain’s speech would go on the first day of the academy;

“Good morning and welcome to the first day of what will hopefully be a great career in the best job in the world. You know, this really is the best job in the world, isn’t it? We get to help people. We get to do some pretty cool things. We get to ride around in big red shiny trucks. But all of that doesn’t matter at all if you aren’t around AFTER your years of service to enjoy your family. Your grandchildren. Your pension you’ve earned. You can’t enjoy those things if you make bad decisions on this job. Bad decisions like not wearing your PPE. Not wearing your mask. Going into buildings that the fire is advanced to a point where there is nothing left to save and there is no viable human life left. You cannot be around to enjoy those things if you put yourself at risk! There is nothing, NOTHING!, that is worth risk to yourself, your health, your safety. You cannot save anyone else if you yourself are injured or incapacitated.”

Now, to be clear, I heard a variation of that speech too. But the focus was not on me. It was not solely on me first, mission an optional second and civilians a distant third. I feel that is what we are smashing into our recruits brains these days, and they are buying into it.

I am in full support of safety standards and of physical fitness. I believe in wearing all your gear, eating healthily, exercising and not taking unnecessary risks on emergency scenes. I am, however, in full support of doing our jobs and in knowing that in order to accomplish certain things on the emergency scene I may have to place myself in a position to risk my health and safety. This does not cause me to shy away from those tasks. This does not cause me to avoid those tasks or automatically label them as unattainable simply because they involve risk. Yet I feel that many in today’s fire service are doing exactly that. Take Captain Kilpatrick’s situation for example. One KIC in his reply to another KIC stated; “The [firefighter] did in fact put the Lady’s Life first. He demonstrated real Fire and EMS Dedication”…Dedication? By removing his mask? Please tell me you would NOT do the same.” I am standing up to say that I would absolutely do the same given the same circumstances. And here’s why: 1) I have a CONSCIOUS victim who is communicating with me. Are you telling me you are going to listen to her cough and gag and slowly loose consciousness while you continue to breathe off your tank? Oh, yeah. You would. It’s all about you. 2) I can leave. I came in off a ground ladder placed at a window. I know where that window and ladder are. If the victim becomes unconscious, my air runs out or conditions become untenable and I still cannot move her then I can leave and save myself. 3) It is a human life that you have taken an oath to protect. I don’t really think I need to expound on this one but maybe I do. For whatever reason the victim could not move. For whatever reason Captain Kilpatrick could not effect a rescue by himself. Captain Kilpatrick made radio and 911 contact and reported where he was and what he needed, help was coming. He made the decision to essentially shelter in place, for lack of a better term. He made the decision not to leave her. To do everything in his power to preserve her life until more help arrived. Even at the risk of himself.

Since 2009 our LODD numbers have been under 100. Thank God! Maybe we are finally listening. Maybe we are all exercising, eating better and training. Some would say we aren’t taking as many stupid risks. Some would point to VSP and other such “tools” as new innovations that have helped us to not place firefighters in harms way thus lowering the numbers. Maybe it’s a combination of numerous factors. But any way you slice it firefighting is always going to be an inherently dangerous profession that will never be able to be made 100-percent safe. It will require, yes require, firefighters to place themselves in positions that will risk their health and well-being in order to perform our job. If you do not subscribe to this treatise or worse yet do not believe it, maybe you were like some of the people in my academy class that first day and didn’t quite think this whole thing through.

Until next time,

Be as safe as possible in the course of carrying out the job you freely undertook and swore an oath to carry out.

Chris